- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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About a week ago, the Los Angeles Angels began the process of discussing hitters who could help them boost the No. 21-ranked offense in the majors, but they still don't appear willing to budge much from the $140 million payroll they started with this season.
In other words, they could be shopping in the bargain bin later this month, unlike at the previous few trade deadlines.
"They're pinching pennies; that's all I can say," one informed baseball source said.
In a radio interview last week with 710 ESPN's John Ireland, Angels manager Mike Scioscia all but admitted he doesn't expect anyone as well-paid as Mark Teixeira, Dan Haren or Scott Kazmir -- the team's past three big-money acquisitions -- to don an Angels cap in the next few weeks.
"To be totally honest with you, John, Arte Moreno's spent enough money," Scioscia said. "We have a good team. He's given us enough resources. We need these guys to play at a higher level, and that's what our focus is going to be.
"If nobody walks in that door on July 31, so be it."
Maybe Angels fans should just be happy nobody is walking out. The way the Angels were playing a month ago -- before a 20-7 burst that shot them back into contention before the All-Star break -- it looked as if they might sell off some talent. Instead, they've just begun the process of identifying which teams are looking to shed payroll, and if the price is right, they could add a piece that helps them stay in contention.
Will they get in trade talks for an everyday third baseman? A bench guy who can give Scioscia better options late in games? A reliever who can provide a little stability to the shaky middle of the Angels' bullpen? As of now, it appears they've cast a wide net.
The team's change in direction would have juked any defensive back out of his cleats. On June 10, the Angels had lost 19 of their previous 28 games, were five games under .500 and were six games behind the first-place Texas Rangers. Now, they're eight games over .500 and one game back, the All-Star break coming at an awkward time for one of the hottest teams in the game.
"A lot of people were thinking we were done, and we've come out and played really good baseball," Haren said. "It's not like we're scoring a ton of runs. It's just that we're getting good pitching and timely hitting. That's how you win."
It might have been something as small as a lineup tweak that helped ignite the Angels. Scioscia rearranged his trio of veteran hitters -- Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells -- and the result has been just enough spark to fire the engine.
The Angels are 23-7 when Wells bats cleanup. For the first time all year, the Angels have a middle-of-the-order that resembles one. Wells has nine home runs and 21 RBIs in his past 25 games. Hunter showed signs of coming on before the break, and rookie Mark Trumbo had homered in three straight games.
"Suddenly, they have great chemistry," said one veteran scout who has been following the Angels. "It wasn't like they didn't have guys who could hit in the middle of the order. They just weren't doing it. With Wells, it was the same old story. A guy -- especially one who's making a lot of money -- goes to a new team and struggles for a while."
Of course, the next couple of weeks remain crucial to this team's fortunes. If the bottom suddenly falls out from under Scioscia and the players, general manager Tony Reagins could change his mind and start looking for talent that would help the team in 2012 and beyond. He has decent enough chips to trade in pitchers Joel Pineiro and Fernando Rodney, both of whom are free agents next fall. It's highly unlikely the Angels would listen seriously to offers for either Haren or Jered Weaver, who is a free agent after the 2012 season.
If nothing else, the past couple of weeks have narrowed the field in the AL West. Third-place Seattle is 7 1/2 games back, and Oakland, which was considered a contender in the spring, is all but buried.
The Rangers are rumored to be in close pursuit of bullpen arms before the trade deadline, and they have far more talent on their Triple-A team than the Angels do. It could be the Angels will play their final 70 games with the guys they have, give or take the occasional ho-hum roster move.
That raises these questions: Will the four-day All-Star break put a kink in the Angels' roll? Can they hang with the defending AL champs?
"That's what I don't know," Hunter said. "I'm telling the truth. I can't predict that because I have no idea what's in store."
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
The Angels are in contention again, but don't expect any major player moves.